Ok. More specifically, it was one of a handful of international branded “experiences”, produced by Vice’s marketing wing on behalf of Intel, who, I believe, make robots. The mission of the Creator’s Project is ostensibly to “celebrate art and technology”, but more specifically, it’s to make 18-34 year olds associate Intel with hip artists, musicians and technologists. To achieve this goal, Vice has also built Intel a videowebsiteseries that apparently 25 million people have looked at once and then not looked at ever again. (This is all from the press release)
The event in San Francisco was billed as a “colossal two-day art and technology festival featuring towering multimedia art installations, live music performances, film screenings and panels.” There was a diverse lineup of bands, each designed to appeal to a different kind of pretensious music fan (Shabbazz Palaces, Squarepusher, Zola Jesus, The Antlers) all leading up to a set by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a DJ set by James Murphy. To get in, you either had to know someone (which is how my girlfriend got in) or to enter a free ticket lottery (which is how I got in). In the week building up to event, the “twits” and the “facebuhs” were aflutter with people looking for extra tickets or trying to sell theirs. In short, the “buzz” among the “hip” “adults” I “know” in the bay area was digitally palpable.
So, hung over on a late Saturday afternoon, my girlfriend and I hopped on a 22 bus down to Fort Mason to check out the event. I’d forgotten it was St. Patrick’s day until we hit the stretch of the bus route that took us through the nerve center of the Marina, a secluded-by-giant-hills San Francisco neighborhood which could be characterized as a colonial outpost of whatever San Diego’s central party district is. Now, I personally like the Marina, and it’s denizens, but as our bus passed by blond after blond, decked out in felt green tophats and green board shorts and mardi gras beads and miniskirts and novelty giant green sunglasses, all pouring out of sportsbars and Irish pubs and house parties, drunkenly lumbering in tan packs down the street, it was hard not to scoff at these so-called adults. “We’re so much better at being grown-ups than these people,” I said.
When we got to Fort Mason, which is a compound of former military hangers down by the water, the scene was a polar opposite. Everyone looked like how I imagine Vice readers too look: either young-trying-to-look-old or old-trying-to-look-young, self styled to seem too cool for school. I will say that my fears of overcrowding and linewaiting of Fader Fort proportions turned out to be unfounded. There were plenty of people, but it wasn’t a shitshow. We were able to quickly retrieve our tickets and explore the experience, so credit where it’s due Vice. We met up with a couple friends and checked out one hanger full of interactive video installations, none of which solicited a deeper reaction than a detached “hmm.” And that seemed to be the reaction everyone, as well; detached half-interest.
From there, we wandered into the giant music hanger where the Antlers were playing dronish, emotionally wrought indie rock to an audience of 800 people, who were all playing with their phones. It was hard to get into for a couple reasons:
- It was bright as day in the hanger, as it was only about 6 o’clock. It’s hard to get into a band you’ve never heard when the lights are still on.
- People watching was far more interesting than bandwatching.
Everyone was dressed oppressively hipply, and instead of looking at the band, we were just looking at each other. But there were no smiles, no making of new friends or engaging with each other. Say what you want about the St. Paddy’s revelers eight blocks away, at least they seemed excited about what they were doing. At the Creators Project, no one seemed remotely excited about anything; the event, creativity, or anything else. They were happy to talk derisively about the whole thing, to the people they came with and take instagrams.
My friends wandered off to check out a David Bowie video-art-installation (which sounds like it was actually pretty awesome) and I checked out the experimental art-rap band, Shabbazz Palaces. Now, I really enjoy Shabbazz Palaces, but I don’t quite understand why anyone else does. Their beats are intentionally abstract and abrasive, the lyrics only occasionally feature hooks and who the fuck knows what they’re going on about. 25% of the crowd seemed to visibly enjoy their set, while everyone else was just there. This seemed to be a constant for the music, regardless of who the band was. All the bands I saw are the kind of music for small, dark rock clubs, not for pleasing crowds at festivals. Though, I guess in the end, they were all booked to make the brands involved seem cool, not to please crowds.
We left midway through Zola Jesus’ dark, energetic set, which DID seem pretty rocking. I don’t regret not staying an additional couple hours to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a band I would merely be checking off the bands-I’ve-seen list. We checked out the giant cube installation, took some instagrams ourselves, and then hopped in a cab. I didn’t feel like I’d learned or experienced anything new about creativity, though I did learn that many of the people who enjoy this sort of thing also enjoy acting super detached all the time, scowling at each others outfits and playing with their smartphones.
Good job, Vice and Intel. You really branded the shit out of me.
Henry Goldman is a culture person. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo credit: Nicole Sheikh